Stevens: Lobos' Long Mountain Road Starts At Tough San Diego State

Feb. 26, 2013

New Mexico Women's Basketball - Mountain West - At San Diego State
8 p.m. (MT) - New Mexico Lobos (14-11, 6-6 MW) at San Diego State (21-5, 12-1)
On The Air: 610-AM KNML with Joe Behrend Game Story, Statistics
Saturday: New Mexico Lobos at Wyoming

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

If you Google Map this monster trip from Albuquerque to San Diego to Laramie and back home, it's about 2,500 miles via the highway.

There are other numbers to consider, too. San Diego State has won 21 games. Wyoming has won 20.

The numbers in San Diego matter most because the Aztecs come first for these improving Lobos. Here's a mean stat: The Aztecs ride a 12-game win streak and are outscoring the enemy by an average margin of 18.3 points during that run, holding them to an average 47.3 points, and 32.5 percent shooting.

Another cruel number: The Aztecs pounded the Lobos 63-39 in The Pit - and now the Lobos must venture into the Viejas Arena to play a red-hot Aztecs' team that could clinch the Mountain West title with a putdown of Lobos.

So, have the Lobos improved by 24 points and have the Aztecs maybe stood still?

Probably not, but the Lobos know they can play better the second time around.

"We can't be scared because it's San Diego State and being at San Diego State," said UNM's Bryce Owens. "We know what we need to do now."

The Lobos definitely need to play better and they definitely need to throw the stops on SDSU's dynamic duo of Chelsea Hopkins and Courtney Clements. Clements had 21 points, seven boards, four assists and four steals in The Pit - with no turnovers.

"We have to limit their touches and limit their drives to the basket," said Lobo Coach Yvonne Sanchez. "You have to get them out of their comfort zone. I don't know if you can stop either one or both, but you can slow them down and get them out of their comfort zone and make other players make plays."

Hopkins had 11 points, seven boards and five assists. The Lobos had no players in double figures which can happen when you only score 39 points. UNM also went 4-of-18 from the free-throw line, had 19 turnovers and went 1-of-5 from long range.

Basically, the Aztecs' defense took the Lobos out of their game, but Coach Sanchez thinks the Lobos have a better game this time around.

"We've gotten better. I like where they (Lobos) are at right now," said Sanchez . "They are doing some really, really good things."

The Lobos will need to do a whole lot of good things on this road swing. The Aztecs are looking to hammer down a title and the Wyoming Cowgirls (9-4) are looking to catch Fresno State (10-3). The Lobos (6-6) appear to be in a battle for fourth place with UNLV (6-7).

"I feel like we have a lot to prove," said Lobo Deeva Vaughn. "Offensively, we weren't that great (in game one), but in order for us to win the game we are going to have to pick it up on defense."

The Aztecs' targets are obvious. Clements (17.2 ppg) is deadly on the edge and might have the prettiest jump shot in the West. Hopkins (13.7 ppg) stirs the drink. She already has a MW-record three triple doubles.

"I remember her stealing my ball and it wasn't very nice," said Owens of Hopkins. "She is a very good point guard. I have to play lock-down defense on her and I'm not going to back down this time.

"I think the last game I kind of backed down. I'm not going to be scared and I'm going to play the defense on her that I know how to."

The Aztecs average 67.8 points and have the league's top defense with a 53.1 yield. But their defensive hammer has really fallen hard during the MW wars. They top the Mountain in field defense at .339 percent and 3-point defense at .286 percent.

They rebound well and Hopkins takes care of the ball. They block shots. They average only 720 fans in Viejas Arena - an insult to such a hard-working team. Wyoming draws 3,421 and UNM attracts a league-leading 6,407 per game.

The Aztecs get good support scoring from Erimma Amarikwa (9.7) and Malia Nahinu (8.1). Hopkins is the leading rebounder at 7.9 followed by Amarikwa at 6.2. Amarikwa and Nahinu are dependable finishers inside shooting .502 percent and .500 percent, respectively.

"It's going to be a little bit tougher (winning at SDSU)," said Owens.

That could be an understatement, but that's why they play the game.

"We are preparing to win," said Sanchez. "We have to make sure we have poise with their pressure. We have to make sure we don't give them transition baskets. You have to stop their runs. You can't turn the ball over and give them fast-break opportunities.

Said Owens: "We have to take care of the ball. It's simple."